Itching
Causes, Possible Conditions, Questions & Related Topics

Itching May Also Be Known as:

  • Pruritus
  • Tingling
  • Prickling
  • Itchiness
  • Tickling sensation



Top 7 Itching Causes

1. Dry Skin

Dry skin can be itchy, uncomfortable, and unsightly, and it can occur for several reasons. Dry skin can be a result of dehydration, cold weather, excessive sun exposure, or underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, and malnutrition.[1]

Common symptoms of dry skin include itching, tightness, redness, a gray or ashy appearance, and cracks or fine lines.[2] Dry skin may be prevented by using moisturizing products, by avoiding harsh soaps, and by covering skin in cold temperatures. Dry skin caused by skin conditions such as eczema or dermatitis can be treated using prescription medications and topical ointments.

2. Allergies

Allergies are conditions in which the immune system responds abnormally to certain foods, substances, and environmental factors. Itching is one of the most common symptoms of allergies, along with rash, swelling, and difficulty breathing.[3]

Allergies are more likely to affect people who suffer from asthma or who have a family history of allergies or asthma. Allergies are also highly common in children. Common allergy triggers include pet dander, pollen, peanuts, shellfish, bee stings, medications, and latex.

3. Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a skin rash that occurs when you come into direct contact with certain substances that cause irritation. Common symptoms of dermatitis include itching, swelling, redness, peeling, blisters, and ulcers.[4] Symptoms can take hours or days to show up after skin has been exposed to the irritating substance.

Substances that sometimes cause contact dermatitis include perfumes, poison oak, latex, gold jewelry, bleach, battery acid, and laundry detergent. Contact dermatitis usually goes away on its own, but treatment involves using an antihistamine to reduce itching and other symptoms.[5]

4. Hives

Hives are red, raised, itchy bumps on the skin that show up after coming into direct contact with an allergen or irritating substance. Hives sometimes burn, sting, and feel warm, and they can be mildly painful to the touch.

Many common causes of hives are similar to causes of allergies: pet dander, pollen, and foods such as shellfish, peanuts, and eggs. Hives can also be a result of excessive sweating or sun exposure, infections like mononucleosis, and autoimmune disorders such as lupus, type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.[6] Itching caused by hives can be relieved using an antihistamine and by avoiding tight clothing and hot showers, which can worsen the itching.[7]

5. Rash

A rash is a section of irritated skin that has become red and swollen. Symptoms of rash include itching, pain, blisters, and tiny bumps.[8] Many rashes clear on their own within several days; in some instances, medications and topical treatments are needed to reduce rash symptoms.

Rashes can be caused by allergic reactions, insect bites, medications, exposure to harsh chemicals, and fungal and bacterial skin infections. Other common causes of rash include infectious disease, autoimmune disease, and excessive sun exposure.

6. Insect Bites

Insect or bug bites and stings often leave small bumps on the skin that sometimes become inflamed and filled with fluid. Many insects inject a substance called formic acid into the skin when biting or making puncture wounds. Formic acid can irritate the tissues surrounding the wound and cause cell damage, which leads to inflammation and itching.[9]

In addition to causing itching, insect bites might cause heat, tingling, and/or numbness at the wound site, along with swelling and rash. Itching caused by insect bites can be treated using antihistamines, anti-itch creams, and over-the-counter pain relievers. Insect bites are most commonly caused by ants, flies, fleas, mosquitos, ticks, and gnats.

7. Eczema

Also known as atopic dermatitis, this skin condition is characterized by raised patches of skin that become irritated, rough, red, and flakey. With eczema, the immune system overreacts to certain changes in the environment and starts attacking healthy tissues in the body. Other common symptoms of eczema include severe itching, yellow or white scaly patches on the skin, greasy or oily skin, and hair loss in affected areas.[10]

Eczema can be triggered by friction on the skin, sweating, rough fabrics, and harsh soaps and detergents. Eczema may also be caused by decreased humidity levels, frequent washing of the hands, pet dander, and Staphylococcus bacteria. Itching caused by eczema can be relieved by applying a cool compress to the affected area, using heavy moisturizers, or taking an antihistamine.[11]

Possible Health Conditions Related to Itching

1. Chronic Kidney Disease

Kidney disease caused by renal failure can cause symptoms that include itching, swelling, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

2. Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis of the liver is often caused by long-term alcohol abuse and hepatitis, and it produces symptoms such as itching, mental confusion, and abdominal swelling.[12]

3. Candida

This fungal yeast causes an infection known as candidiasis that can lead to redness, pain, swelling, and itching at infected sites, which might include the mouth, throat, and vagina.

4. Athlete’s Foot

This fungal infection affects the skin on the feet and between the toes, causing a scaly rash characterized by symptoms that include swelling, burning, stinging, peeling, and itching.

5. Impetigo

This skin condition is caused by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus and produces symptoms that include red rash, blister, and itching.[13]

6. Ringworm

This highly contagious fungal infection commonly develops on the skin and scalp, producing symptoms of itching, hair loss, peeling, rash, and scaly patches.

7. Scabies

This skin condition is caused by tiny burrowing mites called Sarcoptes scabiei that cause bumps, redness, and severe itching.

8. Measles

Also known as rubeola, this viral infection causes cough, runny nose, pink eye, sneezing, and itching.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Itching

  • How long have you been itching?
  • How often does the itching occur?
  • Do you suffer from allergies?
  • When is your itching at its most severe?
  • Have you recently come into contact with irritating chemicals or substances?
  • What medications do you currently take?
  • Do you notice whether the itching is triggered by certain factors?
  • Which parts of your body itch?

Sources

  1. National Library of Medicine. Skin disorders in diabetes mellitus: an epidemiology and physiopathology review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5006568/
  2. National Library of Medicine. Itching. https://medlineplus.gov/itching.html
  3. National Library of Medicine. Allergy. https://medlineplus.gov/allergy.html
  4. National Library of Medicine. Contact dermatitis. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000869.htm
  5. National Institutes of Health News in Health. Red, Itchy Rash? Get the Skinny on Dermatitis. https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2012/04/red-itchy-rash
  6. National Library of Medicine. Chronic urticaria and autoimmunity. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24305753
  7. National Library of Medicine. Hives. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000845.htm
  8. National Library of Medicine. Rashes. https://medlineplus.gov/rashes.html
  9. Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Hiking Health Hazards. https://www.fs.usda.gov/detailfull/sbnf/recreation/hiking/?cid=stelprdb5306108&width=full
  10. National Library of Medicine. Eczema: Overview. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072583/
  11. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis) Treatment. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/diseases-conditions/eczema-treatment
  12. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & Causes of Cirrhosis. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/cirrhosis/symptoms-causes
  13. National Library of Medicine. Impetigo. https://medlineplus.gov/impetigo.html

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